“The nose is in the box with the chicken,” whispers nonprofit radio journalist Diane (the invaluable Velina Brown), mysteriously. She has paused mid-interview to take an emergency cell phone call.
Her interviewees – four older women who comprise the deceptively benign-sounding Morning Glory Baking Circle — lurk about, straining to overhear.
Paranoia runs rampant in “Recipe,” a witty new comedy by San Francisco Mime Troupe head writer (and local actor and director) Michael Gene Sullivan. It’s premiering at Central Works, Berkeley’s longtime new-plays haven.
Sixties-style radicals, the women have gussied themselves up, for this interview, in black berets, and hurriedly slapped a Che Guevara poster on the wall. (The password to get into their carefully locked-up house is “Death to the pigs!”) Now they’re wondering if Diane is a spy for The Man.
Exuberantly directed by Central Works co-director Gary Graves, the play is part farce, part satire, even part mystery, but make no mistake: The political agenda of this seemingly dotty quartet – an agenda shaped, as we discover, by each individual’s past experiences and belief systems – is no joke.
In fact, the Circle’s raison d’être is to raise money, through bake sales of their famously mouth-watering desserts, for progressive causes. This year, they’ve arranged to send $62,000-plus to Cuba, secretly, in support of the revolution.
They didn’t plan to tell the journalist exactly where the money was goin g — they fear government reprisal — but it slipped out. Now they’re on guard, and Diane, who clearly is harboring secrets, is increasingly the target of their suspicions.
To reveal much more about the plot of the two-hour play would lead to spoilers. Suffice it to say you won’t guess the ending — and you’ll find that the women’s political convictions are carefully reasoned and well, and entertainingly, articulated.
The cast is rock-solid, with Central Works co-director Jan Zvaifler as a ditsy former hippie; Tamar Cohn as the uncompromising, self-appointed leader of the cell, Lynne Soffer as the strident Helen X, and an especially convincing Phoebe Moyer as Helen’s down-to-earth lesbian lover, Lillian.
Gregory Scharpen’s sound design is a constant delight.
The slightly overwritten second act tends to sag in the middle, and on opening night the tension and energy flagged right around there, too. Some trimming of extraneous material, and a little directorial tightening, would help.
But overall “Recipe” is funny and alarming. (And the nose does indeed turn out to be in the box with the chicken.)
Presented by Central Works
Where: Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 23
Tickets: $15 to $28
Contact: (510) 558-1381, www.centralworks.org